The American Traffic Safety Services Association’s 40th annual convention – Traffic Expo – convened last week. With 3,000 attendees and 450 exhibitors, North America’s largest roadway safety exposition was about 10% larger than last year’s.

But unless your company exhibited, you probably don’t care so much about those figures, or the fact that the association advocates on Capitol Hill, offers flagger and traffic control training, and provides scholarships for the children of workers killed in work zones. But if you work for a public works agency, or for a company that sells to an agency, you probably will find the following trends that dominated the show quite interesting. (This is a little longer than my usual note, but I think you’ll find it’s worth your while.)

Laser-guided pavement striping. The left-hand dot in this photo shows the operator exactly where the paint will appear, which ensures clean starts and stops; the two points together allow the operator to quickly lay down a precise line.

Depending on the manufacturer (and there were at least 10 exhibiting), this feature adds roughly $300 to $1,000 to machine price.

This photo shows Titan Tool Inc.’s Powrliner 4950 striper, Lazyliner Compact ride-on system (supposedly the industry’s only one-wheel system for lower cost and weight), and battery-powered Linesite laser-guidance system. The laser system works with any equipment brand.         

High-friction surface treatments lower the amount of time it takes to slow a vehicle without losing control or skidding in locations – curves, intersections, and bridges – where half of fatal crashes occur. They cost $25 to $35 per square yard and qualify for federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funds.

Here’s how it works: A polymer binder is applied to existing pavement to provide high tensile strength. Depending on the manufacturer, this component can be epoxy, modified polyester acrylic, or methylmethacrylate (MMA). A layer of calcined bauxite aggregate is then applied to the road, tamped down, and the excess vacuumed up.

The result: friction levels of at least 65 on a scale of 1 to 100. (Click here for a detailed explanation from the 2010 Pavement Evaluation conference.)

The Sherwin-Williams Co. introduced Sher-Friction, which won first place in the Traffic Expo New Products Showcase.

The right way to specify surface preparation for striping contractors. The son of Smith Manufacturing Co. Inc.’s founder launched Smith University to fill a void unique to the pavement-marking industry: no surface-preparation standards.

“Contractors understand the importance of preparing surfaces correctly but they’re unable to invest the time and effort required due to the lack of clear specifications in contracts,” says Steve Smith, a former striping contractor. “Specifiers should make surface preparation a line item in requests for proposal.”

He’s developed a pavement profile standard that DOTs and other public agencies can add to their specifications to make assessing contractor performance an objective rather than subjective process (click here and scroll down to the second page for a daily job log for inspections). Although based on the International Concrete Repair Institute’s 10 surface profiles (brush, grind, blast, erase, prep, finish, strip, mill, fail, plane), the rating system also works for asphalt.

According to Smith, both public agencies and contractors are confused by claims made by the manufacturers of various types of paint-removal equipment. In addition to specifying removal requirements, using this system provides a guideline for choosing the “best” process – rotary erasing, scarifying, or water blasting – based on whether or not it can produce the desired profile.

For example, water-blasting is marketed as non-damaging to pavement and safer for workers because there's no dust. But the process can damage pavement. And scarifiers can be equipped with vacuums that remove dust before it becomes airborne. Water-blasting also precludes paint from being immediately applied, which means that roads are closed to traffic longer. If not directed otherwise, a contractor will choose the fastest process – scarifying – which removes much more pavement than rotary erasure and thus makes it more vulnerable to future wear and tear.

As always, the “right” application depends on the situation.

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? E-mail me at [email protected].